asian horror

Oldboy (2003)


Continuing on in our coverage of the Vengeance Trilogy, this week we bring to you part two of the series, Oldboy.  Many consider this one the best of the three, though personally I’ll have to reserve judgment until I’ve watched the final film.  I will say though, it’s going to be nearly impossible to top this.  There’s a reason this film has achieved critical acclaim the world over (not to mention that’s it’s responsible for putting director Park Chan-wook’s name on the map).  Oldboy is proof that you don’t have to curb the violence in order to present a beautiful, thought-provoking work of art; on the contrary, the brutality of those scenes only serve to add to this deeply introspective look into the nature of a man driven by revenge.


Sweaty’s Stats



There are a few nice titty shots and some man butt.  A little something for everybody.


A solid amount.  It’s not buckets of blood throughout or anything; it’s more a few choice scenes.  But oh how satisfyingly brutal those choice scenes are.

Scare Factor

Low, but the above mentioned violence is definitely cringe-inducing.




Oldboy is the story of Oh Dae-su, a man imprisoned for fifteen years – why, he doesn’t know, and by whom, he has no idea.  One day he finds himself released back into the world with no explanation and thus sets out to find answers.  Answers steeped in stabby thoughts of sweet, sweet murderous revenge.

Right away, the movie draws you in with intense imagery.  If you’ve heard of this movie, then you’ve probably also heard of the infamous octopus scene.  It absolutely deserves the attention, as it’s one of the finest performances put to screen.  The quiet determination with which actor Choi Min-sik maws the living beast is a powerful scene indeed.  I’m not even going to screenshot it here, because it’s best experienced in full.  That’s how amazing it really is.

Oh Dae-su faints at the sushi bar where he begins his journey and is rescued by Mi-do, the cute sushi chef, who takes this weird man she’s just met into her home, because apparently murderers don’t exist in South Korea.  But it’s cool, she’s got a kitchen knife, which I assumes comes with a +10 bonus dmg to rapists, because otherwise what the fuck.  Despite her warning, he still assaults her on the toilet, because hey, what did she expect from a guy she’s taken in, fed, and healed?  The guy’s been locked up for a decade and a half, cut him some slack.


It’s just his way of saying “thanks.”

Things get slightly rapey but she fights him off.  Remorseful, he makes to leave.  Which, come on, is totally hot, right ladies?  The guy pretty much defines “damaged goods.”  Plus he keeps a journal, so that’s got to mean he’s sensitive.



Clearly it was her fault.




What you’re hearing is the sound of a thousand feminists’ heads exploding.

Snark aside, it is an important bit of development into Oh Dae-su’s character.  Here is a man who was not a good man, now repentant and self-aware.  Add to that his desperate need for the touch of another human being, and it’s no wonder he has trouble controlling himself.  Nevertheless, control himself he does, implying that his imprisonment has indeed changed him.  But has it changed him for the good?  Depends on what your definition of “good” means.


You can disfigure people with a hammer and still be a good guy, right?

Now along with his sushi girl, Oh Dae-su searches for his daughter.  He finds that she’s gone to foster parents in Sweden, but the reunion will have to wait because things are about to get all vengeance up in here.  To find the man who imprisoned him, our hero tours the dumpling houses, searching for the food he’d been given for fifteen straight years.


Deleted scene: Oh Dae-su cathartically hammers the shit out of every potsticker he sees.

Eventually he narrows it down and finds the prison, filled with a gang of people working for the mysterious, faceless man who has continued to taunt Oh Dae-su even throughout his return to society.  What comes next is another scene this movie is well-known for, mainly due to its outstandingly and violently graphic execution.  Revenge is on the menu, and Oh Dae-su serves it up by opening a can of hammer on a hallway full of skulls and teeth, bashing and bludgeoning with a madness that only fifteen long years of pent-up, psychotic rage can muster.  Expertly choreographed, methodically shot, this scene is again, one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my entire fucking life.


Must … resist urge … to make “hammer time” joke … SHIT

Oh Dae-su tracks down the puppet master only to find that the man in charge is not done toying with him.  This mystery man dangles the reason behind why he’s been doing all this but won’t give his former prisoner the satisfaction yet.  Instead he gives our hero five days to figure it out on his own, and the clock begins to tick.  As Oh Dae-su struggles to piece together why this man has taken such an interest in him, he comes to find that the answer is not enough, and caps off the remaining portion of the film by validating the description of “vengeance” in the trilogy’s title.  However, much like the rest of the film, it won’t be an easy conclusion for him, and by movie’s end you’ll be left to wonder who succeeded in exacting revenge on who.


But those goddamn dumplings are gonna get it.


Final Thoughts

For one, Oldboy features an absolutely phenomenal soundtrack.  Haunting in parts, it leaves one genuinely feeling the emptiness and loneliness of Oh Dae-su’s condition.  Composer Jo Yeong-wook scored this one so beautifully, after watching you may find yourself adding these tracks to your playlist.  When I’m getting choked up watching a woman weep while she hallucinates that man-sized ants are sitting a few seats down from her, well, that says something.

In addition, this film has one of the best narratives I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  The metaphorical ants and the loneliness they represent, the wisdom of the sand/rock adage (“be it a rock or a grain of sand, in water they sink as the same”) are nuances that deepen this remarkably rich story.  It’s a wonderfully unique and interesting tale from start to finish.    As Oh Dae-su, actor Choi Min-sik bleeds emotion onto the screen in an unprecedented performance.

I cannot recommend this film hard enough; in my opinion, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t seen it.  Personally, I watch this movie every few years or so.  Moving, powerful, brutal – it’s an existential nightmare brought to screen by a team of unbelievably talented people, both in front and behind the cameras.  I have never seen the American remake, nor do I intend to.  It could be a good film (though according to popular opinion, it’s not) but I could never watch this story play out any other way.  Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy should be bludgeoned over the head of every filmmaker with a hard-on for remakes.  Save the reboots for films where there’s room to add something; for a film like this, you just can’t mess with perfection.

Score: 10/10, required watching for everyone on the planet



IMDB for this one

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